Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Pizza Girl [review]

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier
Published by Doubleday on June 9, 2020
my rating: 4 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.37 (as of 2022-06-03)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

I truly had no idea what to expect from this, but a pregnant 18-year-old obsessing over a middle aged woman wasn’t it. The titular Pizza Girl is a delivery driver who is dealing with grief, the looming future of motherhood, and a deepening divide between herself and her family, which consists of only her boyfriend and her own mother. This book has humorous moments and its fair share of vulgarity, but it’s a deep look into coming of age while in the throes of depression. I was frantic and heartbroken by the end of this, more closely invested in Pizza Girl than I thought I would become. I’m glad I was recommended this for the 12 in 12 Challenge, as I honestly think I wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise.


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Olga Dies Dreaming [review]

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Olga Dies Dreaming by Xóchitl González
Published by Flatiron Books on January 4, 2022
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.03 (as of 2022-05-18)
Spoilers at bottom of review

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I liked how complex and easy to root for these characters were, even as they waded through gray areas of morality and made mistake after mistake. Olga is a wedding planner for the elite and her brother Prieto is a congressman. Both of them are of Puerto Rican descent, born and raised in Brooklyn. This novel explores their personal lives as well as the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on Puerto Rico itself. 

Olga and Prieto are both middle aged and still dealing with being abandoned (and subsequently emotionally abused) by their mother, although in different ways. Prieto has hidden himself behind a mask that is beginning to crack and Olga has avoided any kind of emotional connections. Prieto begins to question the way he’s been doing things, while Olga meets the odd-yet-endearing Matteo.

This is an interesting examination of familial trauma, race, and gentrification that works in a lot of ways but ultimately tried to hit too many topics. One of my biggest issues was that the ending felt far too neat for me, like González needed to tie everything up in a bow. I felt like we went from realistic literary fiction to a run-of-the-mill romance novel in the 11th hour; it just didn’t fit the tone of everything that preceded it.


Overall, I did enjoy this though, it just ended up knocked down a few pegs for me. Everything from here on is spoiler territory, as there are some aspects of the ending that rubbed me the wrong way. Content warning for discussion of rape ahead. The first is that the ‘third act breakup’ is preceded by Olga being raped and having a complete mental breakdown. It honestly felt like the assault was just a tool to get to this conflict, and could have been replaced by anything else. When she finally tells Matteo, he’s like ‘wow that sucks and it’s not your fault, but you can’t ignore me when you’re upset.’ Like?? Maybe cut her a little more slack dude, she was literally just raped. 

Secondly, one of the unrealistic aspects of the ending is that Matteo just happens to be rich so he can say, ‘oh don’t worry about getting a job, we can just be together and money doesn’t matter!’ How is he rich? He’s a landlord. It’s okay, though! He’s a good landlord! He’s fighting gentrification! By being a landlord! Especially coming right after the ‘sorry you were raped but don’t ignore me’ conversation, this just left a bad taste in my mouth. Matteo is supposed to be a good guy, we’re supposed to be happy. I wasn’t.

Like I said above, this is still a good book. I still recommend it. I just couldn’t love it and have trouble looking past its faults.


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Milk Fed [review]

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Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
Published by Scribner on February 2, 2021
my rating: 4.5 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.59 (as of 2022-04-23)
Spoiler-free review

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The Pisces was my top book of 2018, so I had high expectations for Broder’s sophomore novel. While I didn’t love this quite as much, I still devoured it. While The Pisces felt like a deep exploration of depression to me, Milk Fed is an exploration of disordered eating. Rachel, the narrator, is a Jewish woman who was raised by an overly critical mother and who uses food restriction as a religion, spending all her time thinking about eating.

I found the portrayal of binge eating in this incredibly spot-on, and thought Rachel’s changing relationship with her body — and Miriam’s — was interesting. I think there are going to be some varying views on the fat representation here and I’m not positive where I fall. Miriam never felt like a fully-formed character to me, but I think that was part of the point: Rachel coveted her in an unhealthy way, obsessing over Miriam’s body the way she obsessed over her own.

Much like The Pisces, I’m not sure who I would recommend this to. It certainly won’t please everyone, but if you’re able to let go and trust Broder I think you’re in for a good ride.


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Nothing But Blackened Teeth [review]

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Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
Published by Tor Nightfire on October 19, 2021
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
2.89 (as of 2022-01-12)
Spoiler-free review

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One girl each year. Two hundred and six bones times a thousand years. More than enough calcium to keep this house standing until the stars ate themselves clean, picked the sinew from their own shining bones.

Okay, I was genuinely shocked when I came on here to give my rating and saw the average goodreads rating. I can see how this wouldn’t work for some people — most of the characters are insufferable and the clarity is a bit lacking at times. But I found the writing so lyrical and the main character, Cat, so immensely relatable. As a queer person with depression, yeah I felt very seen. The atmosphere was truly immersive and I felt like I was standing right there with Cat as we watched our bad friends make bad decisions. It also had a little bit of a The Cabin in the Woods feel with its self-awareness, the characters knowing they were essentially living through a horror movie and making their decisions accordingly. I found that the dread built so well, even if it lost itself a bit in the climax. I was impressed by this and look forward to reading more of Khaw’s work!

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The Lost Girls [review]

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The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl
Published by Page Street Kids on September 14, 2021
my rating: ★★ (2 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.59 (as of 2022-01-04)
Spoiler-free review

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I was a vampire. Undead, immortal, powerful. I would not be brought to my knees by a mortal girl with a gorgeous smile and terrible dance moves.

2 ⭐️

This was such a fun concept with so much promise, but unfortunately it fell quite short for me. Although this was a quick read, I found the writing really clunky, the characters flat, and the story itself boring. I kept waiting to feel something regarding the main romance but there was just no chemistry for me. Ida and Rose were truly interchangeable to me and I could never remember who was who. Elton just felt like an evil caricature. The worldbuilding was somewhat interesting – lots of new vampire “rules” – but that couldn’t carry the rest of the book for me. I ended up skimming the last quarter because I just didn’t care. So bummed this didn’t work out for me, but I didn’t find it enjoyable enough to overlook the poor writing.

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Fingersmith [review]

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Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Published by Riverhead Books on October 1, 2002
my rating: ★★ (2 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.98 (as of 2022-01-01)
Spoiler-free review

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Sometimes she would close her eyes. ‘How well you know me,’ she might say. ‘I think you know the turning of all my limbs.’

This was my first Sarah Waters and it may very well be my last, unless someone wants to convince me otherwise. Maybe it was my mistake reading this during the dark dreary parts of winter, but this was just absolutely miserable. While I loved bits of the relationship between Sue and Maud, I found most of the characters themselves to be incredibly irritating. Sometimes it felt like we were spending full chapters watching them just mope. I think that I would have enjoyed this more if a lot had been cut out; at some points it truly just dragged.

I’ll try to stay vague to avoid spoilers, but I also really struggled to suspend my disbelief when it came to some of the twists. I don’t need my fiction to be 100% realistic, but there were moments where I just thought, “Really?? You expect me to believe they got away with this?” At first I was impressed with how Waters managed to catch me by surprise, but eventually it felt more like she was trying to write something as complicated as possible regardless of how much sense it made.

That being said — I do see what others could enjoy in this. Sometimes I think I find myself a little too empathetic when it comes to reading fictional POVs, which means I can struggle with darker content. This book really pulled me down into its mood and was a difficult reading experience. I did enjoy the Victorian lesbian romance as well as the commentary on women’s lack of agency. I think it would have made a big difference if I didn’t feel so, well, miserable reading it. I do think this is worth trying if you enjoy historical fiction and are looking for something sapphic and mysterious, but just be prepared for some sob stories.

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Waves [review]

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Waves by Ingrid Chabbert and Carole Maurel transl. Edward Gauvin
Published by BOOM! Archaia on May 1, 2019 (originally 2017)
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.06 (as of 2021-11-25)
Spoiler-free review

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Wow, just wow. I put this on my TBR after seeing Destiny post about it and finally picked it up recently. This is the incredibly devastating, partially autobiographical account of a miscarriage and its aftermath. Even though I went into it knowing this would be an emotional read, I did not expect to sob through most of it — but I did.

This story was beautiful — both visually and in its message. My only real complaint was that it felt a little rushed and abruptly short. It was difficult to connect on a deeper level than “fuck, this was sad” because of that. Chabbert notes after the story’s conclusion that she had intentionally not written very much about her attempts to conceive, lest they take over the story, but I found this to be a weakness. While the story was obviously quite emotionally impactful, helping readers to fully understand the context of this loss would have added a lot and allowed more connection to the characters.

I definitely recommend this, though. In fact, I texted a friend just after finishing to recommend it to her. If you can handle the sensitive content, this is a quick read that packs a lot of punch.

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Throne of Glass [review]

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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury Children’s in September 2021 (originally 2012)
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.18 (as of 2021-11-23)
Spoiler-free review

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This is certainly not SJM’s best writing, but since I read the entirety of acotar this year I needed something else to pick up. I went into this expecting something fun and that’s what I got! I actually really liked Celaena and loved watching her develop over the course of the book. I also loved her relationships with Chaol and Dorian (all I want is a triad here), and with Nehemia. While I found this incredibly readable, sometimes we would see other character POVs that completely pulled me out of the story. These felt a little lazy to me and were clearly just a way to quickly show something that Celaena couldn’t have known. It was like SJM was tipping her hand to show us everything rather than leaving us with some mystery. Regardless, I’m excited to continue the series!

content warnings

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Iron Widow [review]

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Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
Published by Penguin Teen on September 21, 2021
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.37 (as of 2021-11-04)
Spoiler-free review

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I probably wouldn’t have even picked this up if I hadn’t found out that this was a love triangle solved by polyamory plot. But boy howdy I am so glad I did. I liked having an anti-heroine in Zetian. She is fueled by nothing but vengeance and Zhao makes that very clear from the start. She’s selfish, she’s rude, and she will sacrifice anything to get the revenge she requires. She’s flawed beyond measure and I still loved reading about her.

This did lose me in a few places, hence the four stars. At points it felt really rushed to me; I felt like we blew through a lot of plot in just 400 pages and my head was kind of spinning at the end. The end in general felt like it went a little off the rails, although I had guessed the big final twist when I was still at the beginning of the book. I just hadn’t expected it to come up in this installment. I also couldn’t connect to the characters sometimes and struggled to get a real feel for their personalities.

I’m going to chalk all that up to this being Zhao’s debut novel, though, and will say that despite its flaws this is very much a book worth reading if you like YA sff. I’m devastated that I have to WAIT for the sequel but am really excited to see more of this world and its characters — particularly my sweet little triad. Seriously, if anyone has recs for polyamory rep like this PLEASE pass it on.

content warnings: Misogyny & femicide, Rape mentioned, Physical & emotional abuse, Suicidal ideation, Alcoholism, Blood & gore depiction, Murder, Torture (per the Trigger Warning Database).

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The Dead and the Dark [review]

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The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould
Published by Wednesday Books on August 3, 2021
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
4.00 (as of 2021-10-24)
Spoiler-free review

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this was so fun and spooky with a really nice sapphic romance! the small town energy was on point. i was really glad to see such an upfront portrayal of comphet and how easy it can be to lose yourself in others’ expectations. i didn’t realize this was a debut until i hit the acknowledgements and was really impressed with Gould’s writing. i think some things in the final act didn’t quite work for me, but this was still so compulsively readable that i tore through it in just a couple sittings. i’m so excited to see what Gould comes out with next (more lesbians, she’s promised) and have already decided that she’s an auto-buy author for me.

content warnings: Homomisia & homomisic slurs; Hate crimes; Death of a child; Murder & attempted murder; Gun violence; Attempted drowning; Vivisepulture (being buried alive) (per the Trigger Warning Database)

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